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Study Finds Sleeping “Sweet Spot” Helps Older Adults Maintain Cognitive Performance

If your sleeping patterns are irregular, it might be time to make changes in favor of your health. According to a study published in the journal Brain, a sleeping “sweet spot” could help older adults to maintain their cognitive performance.

The study — which was conducted over multiple years — involved 100 participants who were tested for cognitive decline and early Alzheimer’s disease, whose sleep-wake activities were monitored for over four to six nights. Additionally, participants slept with an EEG device monitor on their foreheads.

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As the Washington University School of Medicine noted, 88 of the 100 participants had no cognitive impairment, 11 were mildly impaired, and one had mild cognitive impairment. The average age of participants was 75.

The results found that those who slept five and a half hours to seven and a half hours retained brain function. Meanwhile, those who slept over or under the ideal time amount had their cognitive performance suffer. The results were also adjusted for factors such as age, sex, rapid-eye movement (REM) and education.

Associate professor of neurology and director of the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center Brendan Lucey, MD — who was also the lead author of the study — stated that it has been challenging connecting sleep and various stages of Alzheimer’s.

Even with this new data, Lucey said there are still questions left to be answered, such as how adults’ brain performances would respond if methods were implemented to ensure longer sleep for shorter sleepers.

“An unanswered question is if we can intervene to improve sleep, such as increasing sleep time for short sleepers by an hour or so, would that have a positive effect on their cognitive performance so they no longer decline? We need more longitudinal data to answer this question.”

Alzheimer’s can have severe affects on sleep patterns. Alzheimer’s Association states that patients spend 40% of the night awake — either laying restlessly, wandering around, or yelling — and often sleep for a decent portion of the day as a result. Sleep loss in Alzheimer’s patients can also speed up brain damage as well – which makes these findings so much more crucial towards preserving cognitive functionality.

Alzheimer’s isn’t the only disease that can harm the sleep of older adults. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), sleep apnea, insomnia, and movement issues such as REM sleep disorder or restless leg syndrome (RLS) can all be possible hinderances.

However, the NIH shows there are plenty of ways to help you get a better night’s sleep. Following a regular sleeping schedule is important for your body’s internal clock. Keeping your bedroom at comfortable temperatures while using low-lighting closer to your bedtime is also suggested.

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Remember to not use screens — such as your TV, phone, or other devices — when it’s close to your bedtime, as the lights could affect your sleep. Thinking of consuming a certain beverage or meal as a night-time snack? That’s also a no-no – consuming soda, coffee, alcohol, and large servings could force you to stay awake due to the energy boosts they provide.

There are other factors to consider, as well. The quality and comfort of your pillows, mattresses, and blankets can greatly influence how much sleep you receive. If they end up causing discomfort, you’ll be twisting and turning for hours.

It’s also not just older adults that should have an ideal sleep time frame. The Sleep Foundation recommends that six to 13 year olds should have around nine to 11 hours of sleep, 14 to 17 year olds should have eight to 10 hours, and adults from 18 to 64 should have eight to nine hours.

While trying to find that sweet spot may be challenging, the end goal of better brain behavior and overall health makes the effort more than worth it.

Health Food

Healthy Lifestyle Choices To Boost Your Immune System

Coronavirus is causing a lot of panic among individuals worldwide. While it is of the utmost importance that you contact your health provider anytime you feel like you may be showing symptoms, there are things you can be doing in your everyday life to make sure your immune system is running to the best of its ability. 

Besides the recommended social distancing and working from home policies that our governments are implementing, positive immune responses to our lifestyle choices can be essential to staying healthy. First and foremost, making sure that you’re getting enough sleep every night is always one of the most important things you can do for your health. Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer proteins called cytokines. According to a study performed by the Sleep Foundation, cytokines target infections and inflammation within our bodies, they’re also produced and released during our sleep cycles. 

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One of the other most important aspects of our lives that greatly affects our immune systems is our diet. Excessive amounts of sugars and fats can cause gut imbalances that result in autoimmune problems and digestive issues. Ensuring that you are eating a good amount of probiotics daily will also guarantee that your gut has more good bacteria in it than bod. The bacteria in your gut is responsible for breaking down and destroying any foreign bodies that don’t belong in your digestive system. 

Speaking of digesting and diet, intermittent fasting has been taking over the world as of late, and it actually can help reset your immune systems. 

“Fasting for three days (having nothing but water) could essentially reset the immune system. Holding off on eating for at least 16-18 hours after your last meal allows your body’s attention to become “focused on the current immune cells, recycling them and getting rid of the damaged cells. This means that during the fast, your body is running lean and mean with its white blood cells,” said Dr. Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.

It’s important to note that any sort of fasting does also pose major risks, and it should only be done if you’re already healthy. 

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Mental health can also take its toll on our bodies immune responses, especially in terms of stress. During a worldwide pandemic where there’s constant updates on the severity of our planet’s situation, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Make sure you’re taking time everyday to disconnect from the digital world and do something productive that doesn’t involve electronics, such as cooking, cleaning, organizing your photo collection, etc. 

Stress has also been proven to cause inflammatory responses within the body, which can leave you more vulnerable for catching any sort of illness. Mindful practices such as meditation, yoga, and positive affirmations all greatly reduce stress and allow you to focus on your breathing and ability to remain present. 

Stress also depletes your bodies natural production and absorption of the vitamins we intake daily, so consider taking some supplements to help further boost your immune responses. Vitamins C, B, and D, as well as zinc all greatly support your immune system and prevent infections and inflammatory responses within the body. Taking these daily gives your body the extra kick it needs to remain healthy. 

Pay attention to the news enough so you know what’s going on and what new law policies are being passed for the time being, but be sure to disconnect from it all and take a minute to just be with yourself. Eat healthy, get plenty of vitamins, and of course, keep yourself as hydrated as possible before settling in for a night of peaceful sleep.

Woman Waking up from good night sleep

The Key To A Better Night’s Sleep Is A Healthy Lifestyle

Sleeping is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Our bodies need rest in order to recharge and replenish our body’s natural systems so that they’re performing to the best of their ability. Many of us have certain sleep issues, whether it be having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or trouble waking up in the morning, whatever it may be, there’s certain changes you can make to your everyday routine that can help improve your nightly slumbers, and get you the eight hours you need to feel great in the morning. 

One of the simplest solutions for improving sleep is ensuring that you’re in a dark environment. Dark rooms obviously support better sleep as there’s less sensory stimulation. Light exposure interferes with our bodies natural sleep cycle and circadian rhythms; which is a fancy term that refers to when your body tells you to wake up and when to fall asleep. 

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Investing in blackout curtains is the easiest solution if your sleeping situation involves a room with a window that’s facing the sun at any given point in the morning or evening. Heavy and thick curtains not only block out the intense natural lighting of the outside world, but also encourages a more relaxed sleeping environment in general. Dark colored curtains will typically always do the trick, however, if a lighter color would better fit your rooms aesthetic, there are plenty of online options of light colored curtains with thick enough linings to darken any space. 

If you’ve done any research regarding sleep or insomnia, you’ve definitely heard about blue light emissions and their negative effects on our bodies ability to fall asleep. Electronic devices typically always have a “blue light” undertone that has been proven to disrupt our circadian rhythms specifically when we’re going to bed; as many of us like to mindlessly scroll through social media before falling asleep. 

This blue light suppresses the production of melatonin in our brains, which is the chemical that tells the rest of our body when it’s time for bed.  Some phones have a “night mode” setting that turns your screen a more amber hue to combat that harsh blue emission, and there are numerous screen-protector like products that do the same, however, the best thing you can do to promote a more solid night of sleep, is to avoid electronics at all cost at least an hour before going to bed. This can be tough for a lot of us who have developed a nighttime routine that involves some entertainment on our devices, but the only way to ensure you’re body will keep producing melatonin at a normal rate, and keep you rested throughout the night, is to unplug it all and read a book instead before bed. 

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What you eat and drink throughout a day also has a heavy effect on your natural sleep cycle. Depending on when you go to bed, you should stop eating at 8 pm the latest. The later in the night you eat, the more your body will have to digest while you’re resting. This is an issue because our bodies digest at a much slower metabolic rate when we’re sleeping, which can either lead to an unpleasant middle-of-the-night bathroom trip, or an overall feeling of grogginess in the morning. 

Following a healthy meal plan that avoids processed foods and sugars will also keep your energy levels in a more natural and stable state, so when it comes time to unwind, your body will have no problem doing so because it received all the necessary nutrients it needed throughout the day. 

Finally, along the same lines as a healthy diet, getting regular exercise will improve how well you stay asleep throughout the entire night. Even just 10 minutes of activity a day can show positive results. So many of us get trapped in the 9-5 bubble of sitting at a desk all day and then going home and just sitting on the couch to unwind. When you keep up with an active exercise schedule, you’re lowering your risk for certain sleep conditions such as sleep apnea. 

Regardless of what issues you have when it comes time to turn the lights out, keeping up with healthy lifestyle habits will always help improve the way your body functions, regardless of if you’re conscious or not.

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How To Improve Sleep When You’re A Frequent Traveler

Traveling for short-periods of time can often ruin our sleep schedules. Whether it be for business, a wedding, research, etc. travelling distant places for short periods of time can have detrimental effects to the way we sleep, and therefore how our bodies function during a given day. So what can you do to ensure that your mini weekend trips won’t hinder your overall sleep patterns? 

First off, there’s something in the business world known as the “two-day rule” which basically states if you are expecting to be away from home for less than 48 hours total, stick to your normal nightly routine. Even if you’re going somewhere with a different time zone, your body will typically take two full days to adjust and change its schedule to a seemingly “normal” level, so if you just go about your evenings as per usual, and in sync with your native time zone, your body will have less of a struggle adjusting once you return home. 

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So if you can, try to ask for accommodations in whatever obligations you have at your destination so that you can be back in bed at the same time you normally are. When you keep both your physical and mental state in tune with its regular habits, you’ won’t have as much of a need to adjust your sleep schedule when away for short periods of time. 

Make sure you’re packing all of your sleep necessities. Nothing causes more unnecessary stress than when you’re getting ready for bed only to realize that you forgot your toothbrush and face wash at home. Before you go on any sort of trip, it’s necessary to make a checklist of all the things that you need to bring with you. This especially includes all toiletry items that have become staples in your morning and night routines.  

Recreating your sleep environment from home in a hotel room can be extremely tricky, however, having all the necessary elements there will make it a lot easier. In addition to your normal face washing, teeth brushing, and whatever else you do during your routine, add in some extra flare to make yourself especially comfortable. Apply a face mask, throw on a “chill vibes” playlist from Spotify or Youtube, and order some dessert. 

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Another way to create a more positive and relaxed sleep setting for yourself is to avoid any and all screens an hour before going to bed. This is especially important if your short trip is business related. Close out of your emails, silence your texts, and draw yourself a bath. The blue light that’s emitted from all screens has been proven to have negative effects on how easily we are able to fall asleep, and how long we stay asleep. 

On the opposite end, certain apps on your phone can actually help aid sleep, but don’t require you to stare at the screen in order to do so. Apps like Headspace and Calm are literally designed to offer guided meditations and peaceful tunes to send you into a peaceful slumber. 

Finally, do some preliminary work before you leave home in the first place. The night before your travels, make sure you’re getting a full eight hours of sleep and eating a healthy breakfast in the morning when you wake up. Avoid caffeine for as long as you can, while it may feel great in the moment, as most of us know it can cause us to lag in the middle of the day, so wait until you’ve eaten and had at least one cup of water first. 

By sticking to a schedule, maintaining healthy night time and morning habits, and listening to your body’s needs, you’ll be able to travel around for as long as you need and as often as you need without any of the additional stresses of readjusting once your home.

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How To Adopt A Healthy Morning Ritual

When you hear the words “morning routine” do you immediately feel joyful, or a sense of dread? Most working Americans would choose the latter, as their mornings are typically filled with frantically making sure everything they need for the day is together, taking care of their bodies/hygiene, and avoiding any thoughts about work until they actually have to clock-in at the ripe hour of 9 AM. 

When we first wake up, it’s easy to get caught up in the fact that we’re getting up due to an alarm, and not by choice, which is frustrating. However, getting caught up in the misery of waking up early for a job can cause our entire system to absorb those thoughts of negativity and become “sluggish.” Instead, it’s important to take a sort of “mind over matter” approach when it comes to waking up. 

“Emotions are not hard-wired reflections of our external reality. They’re actually guesses our brains make based on previous experiences. Anytime you feel miserable it’s because you are experiencing an unpleasant effect due to physical sensations,” according to Lisa Feldman Barrett, a neuroscientist who wrote the book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain.

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So to emphasize Barrett’s point, when you wake up and automatically get caught up in how upset you are to be awake, your brain is telling the rest of your body to focus on that negativity and try to run on it. Instead, wake up in the morning and think about what you need at that moment to feel more motivated to get ready and go to work. The first thing you should do for the best physical, mental, and emotional outcome in the morning is drink a tall glass of cold water, after that, figure out what you personally need to do to have the most relaxed, yet productive, morning. 

Get the idea of a morning “routine” out of your head and instead think of it as a ritual to prepare your mind, body, and soul for the day in its entirety. Make a list of things that you can do in the morning to keep yourself centered and relaxed. Remember, like Barett said, our brains are just telling us to be miserable in the morning because that’s how we’ve hardwired it to think. Instead emphasize activities in the morning that promote calmness; this could include simply making the bed, savoring a cup of coffee, reading through the newspaper, or even meditating. 

Regardless of what you specifically need to center yourself, carve out enough time in the morning so that you can leisurely go about your ritual with no real rush or urgency. Even if it means waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal, your mental health will thank you for the less frantic, and more relaxed morning. 

Mindfulness and self-awareness are the two obvious things that should be at the forefront of your ritual. When it comes to major tasks that you need to accomplish throughout the day beyond the realm of work, you need to plan out when each task most efficiently fits into your schedule while still allowing you the luxury of leisure. 

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For example, if you’re the type of person who enjoys going to the gym, for a walk, on a run, etc. throughout the week, think about when in your day, ideally, would you love to see those goals accomplished. If going for a morning walk sounds like something that would center you and prepare you for the busy day ahead, then put it in your ritual. However, if it’s something that you want to ensure you have plenty of time for and that you know will help you unwind after a long day, as opposed to prepare you for it, then save it for after you’ve clocked-out. 

Avoid traditional means of waking up and getting out the door, such as chugging caffeine/caffeinated products as a means of getting a quick pick-me-up, because it likely will help for the first few hours of your morning but leave you with that lovely 2 o’clock lagging feeling. Again, water is the best thing you can put into your body first thing in the morning, not just health wise either, energy wise as well. 

Also avoid the stresses in your life that are within your control. Prepare your lunch the night before your work day so it’s one less thing to worry about in the morning. If you want to take a cup of coffee to go for your commute, after you’ve had a tall glass of water of course, think about also making it the night before and either letting it sit in a pot that’s equipped for scheduled brewing, or putting in the fridge for an iced coffee approach. 

Showering is another thing that can wait until the evening if you can manage it, which will also help alleviate some of the personal hygiene items on your morning ritual list. 

Regardless of what your morning ritual consists of, again, just be mindful and go into it positively. Working everyday can be hard, but you’ll find, as you grow older, there are plenty of things to come home to that make it all worth it. So instead of waiting for those moments of joy, take control, and start making them yourself, and do it first thing in the morning while you’re at it.

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These Foods Can Help You Sleep

Eating before bed is typically frowned upon. Technically we all should stop eating by 8pm every night in order to give our bodies the proper time to digest and absorb all the nutrients we took in that day. However, as we all can most likely relate to, late night snacks or meals just seem to happen. Unfortunately, a lot of the foods we choose to eat before bed can actually prevent our bodies from getting a full night of complete rest, due to the fact that parts of our bodies have to keep working throughout the night to digest, but that’s not the case for all foods. 

Celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder works with the likes of Drew Barrymore and Kerry Washington, and also is a founding council member of the health and wellness blog “Well And Good.” Recently, Snyder wrote a study on some of the foods that actually aren’t bad to have before bed(in fact, they actually help us sleep). The study was released after she shared a post on her Instagram that showed a graphic of certain foods and drinks one can have before bed to help aid sleep. 

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The main thing to look for in late night snacks is obviously the ingredients. Certain ingredients that are in our everyday food choices help our bodies in different ways—the key is to find those foods which have benefits that involve muscle/mind relaxation and support easy digestion. 

Pumpkin seeds, for example, contain vitamins A and C as well as fiber. When these small compounds combine, the fiber helps your body easily digest, while the vitamins are able to absorb and support your immune system. Snyder included seeds on her list because they also have a high magnesium content, which she claims is a “calming nutrient linked to better sleep.”

Another food that’s definitely been on all of our midnight snack lists that also contains a decent amount of magnesium is dark chocolate. However, as a sweet, Snyder suggests to “try to stick to just one ounce or less of dark chocolate—it contains a small amount of caffeine which could keep you awake.”

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Like magnesium, tryptophan is another building block to many common foods that also helps to aid healthy sleep patterns. Tryptophan is an amino acid, and amino acids are the building blocks to all proteins. So chicken, eggs, nuts, etc. they’re all made up of different amino acids. Tryptophan is unique in the sense that it not only gives your body protein, but also has been proven to put the brain in a relaxed state that’s “similar to melatonin.” Popular foods that contain tryptophan that are light enough to enjoy before bed are brown rice, lentils, or spinach. 

Spinach itself is one of the more loaded “sleepy superfoods” as it contains both tryptophan and magnesium. Combining both compounds will double the effects on your brain and body. However, digesting leafy greens of any kind is not ideal for overnight. Snyder suggests if you want to have spinach before bed to aid your sleep, blend it up and drink it like a smoothie or soup. This way your body won’t have any difficulties digesting as you sleep; liquids are in general easier to digest compared to solids. 

Finally, a more commonly known sleep-aid is caffeine-free tea. “Caffeine-free tea has been shown to promote relaxation and sleep quality. For some, the ritual of having tea before bed signals the beginning of a bedtime routine, priming the mind and body for sleep. My favorites to sip on at night: chamomile, lavender, tulsi, and rooibos,” says Snyder. 

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Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Though we tend to focus our attention on events that transpire during our waking lives, we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is an often-overlooked part of life that affects nearly all aspects of human health and well-being, but many of us neglect to prioritize a goods night’s sleep, often erroneously thinking that we can be more productive during the day if we spend less time sleeping. While caffeine can temporarily mitigate the effects of poor sleep, sleeping poorly for a long period of time is linked to a number of health problems, including depressed mood and increased risk of heart disease and obesity. As such, this article will discuss several strategies you can use to improve the quality of your sleep so you can enjoy a more alert and productive waking experience.

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The practices associated with high-quality sleep are referred to as “sleep hygiene,” and include a number of important behaviors, all of which are essential for sufficient rest. Perhaps the most important factor is limiting your use of electronic devices in bed or near bedtime. Ideally, usage of electronic devices should be eliminated before going to sleep, as electronic devices with light-emitting screens stimulate the mind and make it difficult to rest. However, if it’s not possible to avoid using electronics late at night, it may be helpful to activate a blue-light filter on your computer, phone, or other device. These filters tint the screen to a reddish-orange hue, reducing the output of blue light which is thought to inhibit sleep by reducing the body’s production of melatonin. In general, the bed should only be used for sleep and sex, as setting these boundaries helps to create an association in your mind between being in bed and falling asleep, subconsciously helping you to fall asleep faster.

Conditions like depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep/wake cycle, causing you to get too few or too many hours of sleep and sleep at inappropriate times

Making various lifestyle changes can also help to improve sleep quality. Two of the most important lifestyle factors that contribute to sleep quality, as well as overall health, are diet and exercise. Tiring yourself out for a half hour or more of strenuous exercise per day not only improves your cardiovascular health and strength, but it can also relieve anxiety and stress, reduce tension, and prepare the body and mind for sleep. While exercising immediately before going to bed probably isn’t a good idea, exercising earlier in the day can help you feel more tired and prone to sleep later in the night. The food you eat also affects your sleep; eating a large meal immediately before going to bed can keep you awake as your body uses energy to digest food, whereas a diet high in sugar could cause you to wake up several times throughout the night. A healthy diet that includes fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins can not only help you maintain a healthy weight but also improve the quality of your sleep. Be mindful of foods that cause heartburn, as any heartburn sufferer knows that it can prevent you from going to sleep.

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Good psychological health is also important for quality sleep. Conditions like depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep/wake cycle, causing you to get too few or too many hours of sleep and sleep at inappropriate times, so if you’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness, be sure to seek treatment from your health care provider, as these illnesses can often be treated with therapy and medication. One of the actions you can take to improve your mental health, alongside diet and exercise, is to begin a mindfulness meditation practice, which can reduce stress and negative emotions by training the brain to observe experiences with openness and acceptance. Another good way to support mental health is to maintain a regular daily routine, ensuring that you wake up, eat, exercise, and go to bed at the same time every day. Doing so will naturally support the body’s circadian rhythms, helping you to feel tired enough at night to fall asleep quickly and alert enough in the morning to start your day. 

Deep Sleep

Deeper Sleep Can Reduce Anxiety Up To 30%

The connection between sleep and mental health has always been present. A lack of sleep can lead to a greater sense of irritability, lack of motivation, increase in depression and anxiety, etc. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of being a human being, so when we’re not getting enough of it, our physical and mental well-being suffers greatly. Extensive research has only further emphasized the connection specifically with sleep and anxiety; sleepless nights can lead to a 30% increase in overall anxiety, according to Medical News Today

Deep sleep was the main focus of this particular study, as it’s been proven countless times in the past that the longer period of time you’re in the “deep” part of your sleep cycle, the less anxiety will be present the following day. 

“To measure anxiety levels, the researchers asked a group of 18 young adults to watch emotionally unsettling videos after a full night of sleep and after a sleepless night. After each viewing, the participants completed a standard anxiety questionnaire called the state-trait anxiety inventory. The scientists used functional MRI and polysomnography to scan the brains of the sleeping participants in order to identify the stages of sleep. The brain scans showed that a brain area called the medial prefrontal cortex was deactivated after a sleepless night,” according to Medical News Today.

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The prefrontal cortex has been studied in the past in anxiety studies, which have worked to prove that this area of the brain is what helps us reduce our daily stresses and anxieties. So when this area is “deactivated” due to a lack of sleep, the anxiety and stress of our everyday lives are amplified, as there’s no on switch for the prefrontal cortex once it’s turned off. The only way to turn it back on is to get some much-needed deep sleep. 

To better understand our sleep cycle, let’s break down the stages of our nightly sleep patterns. Scientists divide our sleep cycle into two categories. There’s rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is what controls how well, and how deeply we sleep every night. There’s four main stages to non-REM sleep, the first two are light and involves the part of the night where our bodies are fully relaxing, unwinding, and succumbing to the comfort of temporary unconsciousness. The third is our friend, deep sleep, which is the majority of the night in which our bodies fully recharge themselves and give us restorative energy to use when we wake up. Finally, the fourth stage is also a lighter sleep, this time towards the end of the night, this stage is when most of our dreams occur as our bodies begin to wake up with all the newly developed energy we gained from stage 3. 

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So without enough proper sleep during this cycle, our brains can feel heavier and it becomes harder to function. Without enough deep sleep, there’s not enough restorative energy to last an entire day and our emotions are able to run rampant, as our brain doesn’t have enough energy to turn them off. This is what leads to overwhelming feelings of anxiety. Our increase in irritability and emotional distress causes massive feelings of discomfort. 

“We have identified a new function of deep sleep, one that decreases anxiety overnight by reorganizing connections in the brain. Deep sleep had restored the brain’s prefrontal mechanism that regulates our emotions, lowering emotional and physiological reactivity and preventing the escalation of anxiety,” reports Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley and the study’s lead author.

While sleep is not the cure to clinical anxiety, and certainly won’t cure any other mental health ailments one might be experiencing, it definitely doesn’t hurt. Giving your body the necessary rest and restoration it needs for daily function is extremely important. Make sure you’re trying to get your full eight hours every night, and if you’re someone who suffers from feelings of insomnia, talk to your physician right away. Everyone deserves a good night’s rest, and a reduction in their everyday stresses.

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How to Improve your Sleep Hygiene

Many of us struggle to get a good night’s sleep. But while occasional, infrequent difficulties with sleep have only a small impact on your everyday life, ongoing problems with sleep can disrupt your ability to concentrate, focus, and even drive safely. As such, for the sake of maintaining your general health, it’s important to take a good look at your sleep habits and identify areas that need work. For most people, the concept of “sleep hygiene” is a foreign one, but for people suffering from insomnia, nightmares, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and other similar issues, the principles of sleep hygiene can be instrumental in improving a person’s overall health. Studies have shown that the average adult needs roughly 7-8 hours of sleep per night for optimum health, but according to the CDC, 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep.

Sleep hygiene refers broadly to the set of behaviors and practices most directly linked with healthy sleep. These factors can be combined with medicines such as melatonin that make it easier for a person to fall asleep but can also be effective when implemented on their own. Some of the suggestions in a sleep hygiene practice may seem obvious, such as the recommendation to avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before bed. Other pieces of advice, such as refraining from using the bed for anything except sleep and sex, are more surprising. As such, the first step that a person looking to improve their sleep should take is to educate themselves on the various aspects of sleep hygiene.

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Plenty of websites exist for this purpose, but this article will summarize some of the most significant practices. One of the most important tips is to establish a bedtime routine and stick to it over time. This involves setting a schedule for what time of night you go to bed and when you wake up, and choosing a relaxing activity to engage in before bed, such as taking a bath or reading a book. As the blue light produced by digital displays inhibits the body’s production of melatonin, it’s recommended that you avoid electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, and TVs before you plan to sleep. (If you absolutely must engage with one of these devices late at night, many devices offer a night mode, which gives the screen a red tint to mitigate the impact of blue light.) Speaking of melatonin, it can be helpful to ensure that you’re experiencing an adequate amount of natural sunlight during the day and darkness at night, as the production of this sleep hormone is heavily impacted by ambient light.

Changing your habits throughout the day can also have a positive impact when it comes time to sleep. Regular exercise, even as little as ten minutes per day, can improve the quality of your sleep at night. Whether or not exercising at night has a negative impact on sleep varies on an individual basis, but for most people it’s not recommended. Certain foods, including fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can disrupt the quality of sleep, and while ingesting alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, it too can reduce sleep quality. Taking a nap during the day won’t make up for insufficient nighttime sleep; however, it can help with mood, alertness, and performance, as long as naps are restricted to 30 minutes at most. It’s also important to make sure that your sleep environment is optimized, which means ensuring that your mattress and pillows are comfortable, and the temperature is kept between 60 and 67 degrees. Even small lights, such as LEDs on electronic devices and nightlights, can impact your sleep, and it’s best to sleep in complete darkness.

If you’re interested in improving your sleep hygiene, you don’t have to do it alone. It can be difficult to adjust longstanding habits, and as improving sleep hygiene can take a long time, a lack of improvement at first can be discouraging. For people with more serious sleep issues, cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which sleep hygiene practices are discussed with a psychologist, can help reinforce positive behaviors. Additionally, apps that are designed to help people sleep such as Sleepio attempt to replicate the experience of cognitive-behavioral therapy for sleep hygiene without the expense and hassle of meeting a therapist in-person. And melatonin, a dietary supplement that is produced by the human body in response to darkness in order to prepare for sleep, is available over-the-counter as a safe and effective sleep aid when taken about an hour before bedtime.

Girl Vaping

Melatonin Vape Pens: Are They Safe?

Over the past several years, the emerging technology of vape pens of a method of rapid drug administration has gained tremendous popularity. The most well-known type of this product are vape pens that administer nicotine, also called e-cigarettes, manufactured by popular brands like Juul and marketed as tools to replace cigarettes or help people reduce their nicotine addiction. While these apparent good intentions are admirable, the reality of e-cigarette proliferation has had negative health consequences in the United States: the popularity of these products has exploded, particularly among young people who use them recreationally instead of as a smoking cessation tool; the quantity of nicotine one can inhale with a vape pen is nearly unlimited, making the effects of nicotine dependency more pronounced compared to cigarettes; and recently, a string of vaping-related hospitalizations in the United States has led to concerns that vape products are not nearly as safe as their marketing would have you believe.

Nicotine, of course, is not the only drug that can be administered via battery-powered vapor devices. In states where the drug is legal, THC cartridges have been manufactured as an alternative to smoking marijuana, with users reporting a pronounced effect from the products relative to traditional smoking methods. The concerns associated with these products are similar to those associated with e-cigarettes, as the long-term health effects of inhaling vapor are not yet well understood and this style of administration makes high doses likely. Nevertheless, there’s no end in sight for the rise in popularity of vape pens, and businesses have started experimenting with products that deliver other substances.

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Perhaps the most well-known such business is Cloudy, who promotes their product heavily on Instagram and other social media platforms. Cloudy manufactures a disposable melatonin and essential oil personal diffuser, which they sell for $20 each and which promises to deliver a near-instant sense of sleepiness and relaxation. The device’s primary active ingredient, Melatonin, is a hormone that regulates the human sleep-wake cycle and has long been used to treat difficulty sleeping. While it is categorized by the FDA as a dietary supplement, not a medication, other countries such as the UK prohibit sale of the supplement without a prescription. When taken as a supplement, the hormone presents very few side effects, and it is generally considered safe to take low doses of melatonin even for periods of time lasting 12 months, although long-term reliance for sleep is not recommended.

As melatonin supplements are usually ingested orally and processed by the body’s digestive system, it usually takes between thirty minutes and an hour to feel the effects of the hormone. The main selling point of Cloudy’s personal diffuser is that the effects of Melatonin, when inhaled, can be felt nearly instantly, leaving users feeling ready to fall asleep within minutes. As such, the company claims that inhaling melatonin is superior to using orally-administered supplements, which they state can have inconsistent effects depending on how much food a person has eaten recently among other factors.

Cloudy also asserts that their product is a totally safe aromatherapy device, as it does not contain any of the artificial flavorings or drugs found in other vape products, instead relying on all-natural and vegan ingredients including lavender and chamomile, which are known to produce an effect of relaxation.

Within the past year, the CDC has reported that some of the ingredients present in nicotine and THC vaping products, such as Vitamin E Acetate,  caused thousands of individuals to experience lung collapse and other respiratory issues, however, those ingredients aren’t found in Cloudy’s products. In fact, the company’s website provides research that has been conducted about the effects of its ingredients, many of which have been thoroughly studied and not been found to produce harmful effects. And user reviews of the product seem to be overwhelmingly positive, lauding the diffuser as safe and effective, if the ones presented on the product’s website are to be trusted.

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Despite these promising indicators, there is of course reason to be concerned about these types of devices on the market. For one, while the effects of melatonin are fairly well-understood in the scientific community, the rapid route of administration via vapor has not been as thoroughly studied. Concern also exists regarding the long-term health consequences of reliance on a device that puts you to sleep within minutes. 

As such, I’d recommend caution when considering purchasing a melatonin diffuser. It’s important to note that, as they do not contain any ingredients which are classified as drugs by the FDA, these personal diffusers are largely unregulated and claims of the product’s efficiency are not held to the same legal standard of accountability as those of prescription drug manufacturers. Before starting any supplement, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. While it’s not legally required to have this conversation, your doctor can give you the well-informed perspective of a medical professional and can also take your individual health concerns into consideration, as supplements can have interactions with various prescription drugs and particular medical conditions. Nevertheless, while this category of product is new and untested, it does show promise as a medical device, particularly for those who have difficulty sleeping which is not treated well by traditional therapies and substances.